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BIG DEER OR MATURE DEER - What makes a deer achieve "Shooter Status" for us at MDLO?

Here is a table that I built that easily shows my thought process on deciding if a deer is worthy of being harvested by a client... based off age and/or score. I had to put some "maybe's" in there because, well, you never know. Take a peak at it below...

There are a lot of factors in this beyond age and score. Sometimes, it comes down to the quality of the farm and MDLO's expected time on the farm as for years leasing in the future. Sometimes, it comes down to the nature of the rack and frame. We killed a "booner-framed" 8pt that taped 130" but that deer should be shot every time. We have killed some tight-racked bucks with height that taped at and over 150" even though he wasn't to the ears. It just depends on the deer and each deer is different. Being well-versed in scoring is a huge upside to judging deer on the hoof. Yet, then there is age to consider.

The likely-mature (4-1/2 or 5-1/2?) 128" 8pt (5x3) referenced above.

Look at that palmation! His frame is wide with great length. I'd shoot this deer 8 days out the week.

Regardless of age, I can't tell a hunter to not shoot a 160" deer, but I reserve the right to do so if I want him to have another year for us to maybe get a crack at him the following season. Odds are though that I won't. A 160" deer is a different level of trophy, and when on a time crunch, I don't want to be the party pooper. Yet, as the chart shows, with age (maturity) comes leniency on score. To me, 5-1/2 or older is a mature deer to me. 4-1/2 and younger is immature to me, but it's on the fence a bit. As you can see, we want basically no 3-1/2 year olds harvested unless they are 160-170+. We did kill a debatable 3-1/2 year old 168" in 2016, and I was broken-hearted over it. Yet, that a stud. He could have been the next 200" deer we killed, but he could have died from EHD, got shot on the neighbors, or hit by a truck. One in the hand versus two in the bush.

The debatable 3-1/2 (maybe 4-1/2?) year old 168" stud reference above.

Trail camera photos showed this deer's body, and it was very much looking like a 3-1/2 year old despite being rutted up. So, he could very well have been 4-1/2. What a beautiful deer though!

My general rule of thumb is that if he is 160" or larger, he's a definite shooter no matter the age. If he's not truly mature (5-1/2 and older), caution needs applied to make sure scores high enough. Some 4-1/2 year olds look big-bodied so they deceive you into thinking they're bigger (and score bigger). We killed a 4-1/2 year old 150" 8 a few years ago, and I was completely fine with it. He had a beautiful frame. That's the same frame as a 160" 10pt most days. The general rule of thumb continues to if a deer is shot and he's not truly mature, he better be big and good enough for photos. I reserve the right to issue a penalty fee, but I truly try not to. I don't want to penalize a guy that is happy, but I also have to protect the integrity of our farms and our deer.

The 4-1/2 Year Old 150" 8pt reference above.

He was deceiving a bit, seemed more 140-145" but he made the 150" by a hair. His length is more than what shows in this photo. His frame and length were wonderful for an 8pt.

I can tell you that I had a hunter tell me once, "who are you to tell me what a trophy is to me?" Well, they're my leases, my deer due to such, and my hunts offered. Mind you, this was a guy wanting to shoot a 130" 3-1/2 year old instead of the 190"+ monarch he saw earlier that day at about 100-150yds from the stand. I told him he needed to not shoot anything under 150" or under 4-1/2 years of age. The gap between my minimum described and his idea of a minimum trophy was significant. He ended up leaving due to work, but I believe some of it was because I fought him on this. He was not happy that I told him he couldn't shoot a deer he wanted to shoot. I had to. I had to fight for it for anyone else coming to hunt next year or the year after that. If we kill younger deer, we will never know what they could turn into. That is why I am such a stickler for age over score, but at 160" and bigger, age becomes just another metric. So, hold out for that mature stud (5-1/2 and older) 140"+ or the first 160"+ you see. Hunts don't always end with a punched tag, but you owe it to yourself and MDLO to not damage the integrity of the farm and the deer populations for future hunters like yourself.

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